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Combatting perfectionism

If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist.

My generation is taught that we’re special. Each of us is smart, and beautiful, and skilled, and interesting.

In a word, perfect.

Spoiler alert - there’s no such thing as perfect.

When we were told these manufactured standards, they served to elevate us for a time, but ultimately all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and have as much fun and do as much meaningful stuff as we can.

We are each lovable and whole and beautiful, but we are not perfect, and we will never be perfect. When we try to believe that we are, or that we should be, I believe this to be source of some of the biggest illnesses and challenges I see in my clinic and in my self.

When I practice dance or piano or acupuncture or qi gong or meditation, I find that there’s a little corner of my mind that’s always telling me that I’m not doing it right, or I don’t know what I’m doing, or I should give up now while I’m ahead. This voice is a dark passenger which most of us experience in some manner or another. Whether yours tells you you’re imperfect, or unlovable, or unworthy, or something else, it is a part of the mind which inherently is imperfect. As long as you’re criticizing yourself in this way, how could you ever be perfect?

But this voice also drives us to do better, to achieve, and to flourish. Having ambition is not inherently unhealthy. It is perfectly human (see what I did there?).

So, how can we have the one without the other?

Short answer: we can’t, but we can change the tone of the conversation.

Here’s some ideas to help you talk back to your dark passenger.

1) Thank it for wanting the best for you.

Whether it’s fear of failure, knowing you can do better, or something else, this strategy takes into account the motivation behind the voice, and doesn’t just dismiss it. Most of us can’t just turn this voice off at will. When you’re a beginner at dealing with this voice, you can begin the conversation with yourself in this manner. “I know I’m not perfect, and I could theoretically do better. Thank you for pointing out when I’m not putting my full effort into this.” This is a good place to start, but it runs the risk of leading us to overextend ourselves, and use up all of our qi striving.

2) Invite it to see that sometimes you’re just going to be tired, or have a bad day, or otherwise not be able.

None of us can go at 100% all of the time! Appeal to the voice of reason within you, and see that sometimes you’re just going to be a little off. Maybe you’re tired, or you’re overextended, or you’re distracted. With this strategy, be sure to forgive yourself for this “off-day” instead of trying to point fingers at why it is this way. It is what it is - trying to figure out what you did wrong to get to this “off-day” usually ends in more frustration, so don’t engage that line of thought. Say to yourself, “for whatever reason that doesn’t really matter, I’m just a little off today. That’s ok! I can do better tomorrow.”

3) Tell yourself that even though you have this perfectionism (and you are imperfect), and you know it’s unreasonable (and you will never be perfect), you fully accept yourself as you are.

This is the point where you just say it until it’s true! This comes from something called Emotional Freedom Techniques, or Emotional Freedom Tapping (EFT). In the midst of a strong emotional experience, such as when I notice I’m “beating up” on myself, I identify the trigger within me and tell myself that even though it is present in me, I fully accept myself. I squeeze or tap the pinky-side of my hand, between the bone and the palm, and repeat this to myself in my head until it feels more true.

This usually helps to quiet that voice. The channel I’m using when I use this technique is called Small Intestine. In the physical body, the small intestine absorbs nutrients and passes over wastes. So in Chinese medicine, this channel is responsible for sorting the pure from the impure, helping us to be conscious to that which is essential and promotes harmony. Five-element acupuncturists understand that Small Intestine belongs to the Fire element, and perfectionism is a disease of the Metal element. Fire controls (melts) Metal, so calling on this channel is a good way to keep the brittle self-judgment in check.

If you’re interested in more about EFT, I highly recommend “EFT for the Highly Sensitive Temperament” by Rue Hass.

I would love to journey with you through quieting perfectionism! Want me on your team? Click the green Book Appointment button.

Disclaimer: this blog is not intended to replace medical or psychiatric advice or treatment. If you’re experiencing symptoms of psychological conditions, please get help!

The true meaning of strength is asking for help when you need it.

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